Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The West Wing is never wrong.

There's this episode of The West Wing (see below), where President Bartlet says to Josh Lyman "I want to be the guy. You want to be the guy the guy counts on," and I think it is the piece of fictional dialogue I have most related to in my entire life.

Because that's me: I want to be the guy (or girl, in this instance) that people count on.

And I think I am, to a pretty large extent.

But the thing about being that guy/girl, is that it's fucking hard. And lonely. Frustrating. Anxiety-producing. And, for me, at least, it's really really difficult to stay on the side of the line that equates with uber-dependability, without crossing into total, unselfishly-selfish martyrdom. (Because, honestly, is there anything that winds up being more selfish than a person who can't think about themselves in any situation and starts feeling taken advantage of by everyone in their life? Probably not.)

So, it's a difficult line to toe, and I definitely feel like I have fallen, head first, over it in my current situation, which has created this atmosphere where I find nearly everything my brother does upsetting, and I can't figure out if I'm overreacting or not. I feel like all of the sudden I'm realizing that everyone else has been right for the past year and a half; that he is definitely taking advantage of me, and that I'm enabling all sorts of inappropriate behavior on his part. That I've somehow wound up in this relationship with him where I can't be honest because I feel like he takes offense so easily, and the kids are the ones who wind up getting hurt.

For examples - he cancelled my nephew's birthday party the night before because his other aunt (my deceased sister-in-law's sister) overstepped and tried to change the times like it was her right. I get that she overstepped, but he completely overreacted, threw a tantrum and we all just had to go along with it, because they're his kids, and he is in charge of them. He overreacts about 95% of things - in a way that I find aggressive and overwhelming, because it reminds me so much of our dads, and their bad behavior, and I usually back down, because it's the kids who are in the middle. I wind up having to act as interpreter for him to everybody - "he meant to say" or "he's really hurt about" or "he's just tired tonight". So many fucking excuses that I heard as a kid and told myself I would never tell, and here I am slinging them like I'm reciting back my ABC's.

I know he's hurting, and I know he's grieving, but I also know that he's kind of an asshole, and, under any other circumstances, I would tell him so. I call him out when it's stuff with the kids - or at least try to, I'm ashamed to say how often I find myself retreating into the intimated girl I used to be when faced with slamming doors and stomping feet - but let everything else go with a "I am just to tired to fight this fight today" mentality. I just don't know why everything has to be a fight, why everything has to be so tense all the time. 

His sense of responsibility and mine are completely different: I have been putting those kids first - before  my own health, even - since they were born. Not full-time, until now, but definitely in a way that has been unhealthy for me, even. He thinks he has been doing the same thing, but, it's different.  He thinks working and feeding them and not exploding every time he's pissed off about something is something that should earn him kudos and cookies.  I think you're doing the bare minimum that is required of you as a father, and you just need to get on with it and act like a grown up.

There was a lot of talk, after she first passed, about letting him sink or swim on his own.  Just... going home and letting them all put the pieces back together as best they could. I knew then that that just could not happen, because he was as checked out as he could possibly be, while still being physically present. And those two kids needed more than a father-sized shape walking around, especially with the big gaping mother-sized hole they both will always have. An auntie who is trying her best-sized block isn't good enough: it's never going to be. But if it's what we've got to work with, then I can't take that away from them. I can't imagine leaving, of my own free will.  I can easily imagine him making me leave by being so much of an asshole that I can't deal with him anymore without losing my mind. (Because I lived with one of those already, and - as hard as I try not to draw comparisons, they are there to be drawn.)

He's not always an asshole. He can be sweet.  He plays catch with them sometimes, or surprises them by going out for breakfast. He lets me buy whatever the hell I think we need grocery shopping online, even if I have to order every other day. He doesn't care about paying for things, except when he does, and make a big deal out of those things.  He worries about me, when I'm extra/normal people on top of chronic sick, even if he doesn't actually do more so I can do less.  He has said the words "You don't need to contribute more than your presence to stay here - I don't expect more from you than what you do." But I also don't feel like he gets what I do, the extent of it or the import of it, at all. 

I guess I just feel really underappreciated right now, since he just took a night off the other night - just went out and didn't come home, and told me at like 3:30 that that's what he was doing, and didn't even tell the kids, and left me to deal with the fallout, and then got pissed the next morning when I told him there was fallout about it from the kids.  And then the kids were all fine when he was here, and he didn't have to deal with any of their anxiety at him not being home or their anger that they didn't know, or their terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days, and I did.  I took care of them, and I keep taking care of them, and I love it, because I love them, but.... it is so hard. And he just doesn't see.  He doesn't worry about Lil Girl's back, or NephTwo's broken heart, or MCAS or the stupid fish that hides in its filing cabinet, or why nobody can fill up the whole goddamn dishwasher instead of 9/10ths of it, or if that one's wearing the same dirty shirt she wore three days in a row, or if this one is coming home late and is all giggly, and now I have to google what the signs of pot use in teenagers are, even though I didn't smell it, but I have a stuffy nose, so let's just double check.

 He loves these kids as hard as he's ever loved anybody else, I KNOW it, I can SEE it. But he SUCKS at making them feel it. At showing it in any meaningful, past this one specific moment, kind of way. He worries about them too, but I know it's not the same way I do. I worry about them first, and I don't think he does, because he couldn't act the way he does if he was thinking of them. My grandmother always said fathers were like that, that mother's hearts were different, and fathers never really understood, but I hope that's a piece of generational sexism that doesn't prove true.  I mean, no: they are different.  But I don't think that means father's can't put their kids first.  I think he may even believe that's what he's doing. I just don't know how to get him to see that his behavior is as harmful as it is. To all of us.

And I really, really, don't want those kids to come up to me, 20 years from now and say: Why couldn't you just tell him he was being such a jerk, why did the house have to feel like that? Because it's what I sometimes want to say to my mum, still.  And I know these issues predate SisterNc's death, because their relationship was rocky and had a lot of the problems I'm banging my head against right now, but it's different, bc he's my brother, and they're not technically my kids, and I'm supposed to be helping.

That's the real problem - I'm supposed to be helping, and I just don't know how to do it right now, so I feel like shit. 

Probably I'll just start rewatching The West Wing.  That seems like a good idea.

1 comment:

Susan from the Pacific Northwest said...

Changing things, or making recommendations for change, is too much for you to take on on your own.

Family counseling - get an expert from outside the family to work it through with everybody. It could make all the difference in the world for you, and the kids. I don't know if you could physically make it to counseling, but the dad and kids could. It would be really good if you could go too, though.

Best wishes!